Insight Yoga Nidra: Part 2 Breathing

In the practice of body awareness, we directly experience the relationship between a relaxed body and a relaxed mind. This is taken further with conscious breathing. Conscious breathing is the next step in witnessing the relationship of the breath to the mental and physical states. The body-mind complex moves further into a state of calmness and relaxation. This state is the foundation to focus and concentration.

The basic principles are the same as in body awareness. This is the next step in an incremental set of exercises as the awareness starts with the solid, tangible (“gross”) body known as the annamaya kosha and then gradually becomes more and more refined, focused, as it explores pranamaya kosha (breath), manomaya kosha, vigyanamaya kosha, and finally anandamaya kosha. Each kosha (sheath or body) is a gateway to insights,

There are areas of overlap and differences between Satyananda Yoga Nidra and the breath contemplation of the Satipatthana Sutta. This post will not go into the differences as it will be too long. The main differences are in the ways the breath can be observed and felt. The insights gained are the same.


The key now is CURIOSITY! To stay focused on the object of awareness, there has to be curiosity, a deep interest and joy in learning about this object. Otherwise the mind will wander off to distractions and be lost in them. Just as there is interest in the outer world and all that goes in it, there has to be a keen desire and interest in knowing what goes on within. What exactly are the body and mind, what are they made of, what is the content, what is the nature/characteristic, what is the behavior, what affects the behavior?


1. Object of awareness is the breath. Initially, or for a considerable period of time, what is felt is the movement of air.

As focus and concentration develop (and relaxation becomes increasingly deep), the goal is to go beyond the easily felt movement of air to the much more subtle movement of the life force, prana, that is carried through the medium of air. What gives us life is not just air, but also the vital life force. The breath leads us to the awareness of the life force prana.

2. Object of awareness and awareness are separate.

In body awareness, the object of awareness is still and solid. Awareness is moving around the body.

In breath awareness, the next stage, the object of awareness is moving and fluid. The awareness is also moving. Both are moving and they have to move in tandem.

3. Depersonalizing the breath happens by clinically witnessing it through objective, focused, curious, mindfulness. It is “a” breath, not “my” breath. It is just awareness, not “my” awareness. Breath awareness continues the process of diminishing the troublesome “I”. No “I” to be found in the body, no “I” to be found in the breath. So what and where is “I”?

4. There are multiple methods of being aware, mindful, of the breath. They also serve as exercises to develop focus and concentration.

* Counting the breath from 1 to 10 or backwards from 10 to 1. This is often used in the beginning to train the wandering mind. But once the mind has settled, counting must be dropped as it becomes the focus of concentration instead of the breath.

Counting can also become a source of anxiety and tension due to the fear of missing a count. And there have been times when people have developed headaches or shoulder/neck pain as they tighten their facial, neck and back muscles to concentrate too hard on the counting. The relaxation response is gone. Instead of paying attention to the breath, all the effort goes into counting. In that case, counting is not advisable.

* With each inspiration and expiration, making a note of the following one by one after a few minutes of just watching the breath: is the breath long or short; deep or shallow; warm or cool; smooth o r jerky; felt more in one nostril than the other. These observations will keep the mind engaged with the breath and give an understanding of it. Simply watching the breath will bore the mind and it will wander off. The mechanical process of observation will provide no insights into the mind or body.

* Awareness of where the breath touches the body, or body parts.

* Watching the in-breath and out-breath anywhere in the body/the whole body/toes to head and head to toes.

* Following the breath from the moment it arises to the moment it has dissipated. As the practice develops, there are natural pauses between the inhalation and exhalation, and exhalation and inhalation. In-breath—pause—out-breath—pause. The whole breath.

* Adding a mantra to the breath. Following the breath can be easier if there is a sound added. In yoga, the sound of the breath is So Hum (I am That). So is the inspiration, Hum is the expiration. Sha-lom, A-men, A-min work equally well. Or one’s own mantra. This is developed into the practice of Ajapa Japa in Satyananda Yoga.

* Feeling the breath as it moves in and out of the belly (manipura chakra), or the heart (anahata chakra), or the eyebrow center (bhrumadhya—the trigger point for ajna chakra). Or all chakras, one by one.

* Various passages in the body: the frontal passage or parts of the frontal passage; the spinal passage; the nasal passage; the three main meridians or nadis—ida, pingala, sushumna.


With the exploration of each “sheath”, previous insights can be affirmed, can evolve, and more insights gained.

1. Breath is breath—it is not “me” or “I”. There is no “me” in the breath. Identification with the breath weakens.

2. Awareness of the breath is not the breath.

3. Breath arises and passes by itself (there is a limit to controlling it). Over and over again. Different each time, a new breath born as the old is gone. What does that point to about life and existence? Also, being secure with the insecurity that the next breath may or may not come.

4. Is the breath one continuous sensation or is it countless, ever-changing sensations? And what does that reveal?

5. Are sensations more pronounced during inhalation, or exhalation? How about the pauses? What is learned from this?

6. What happens in the pause after inhalation? What does the awareness feel in the pause after exhalation? Pauses are highly insightful and these must be one’s own, direct revelations.

5. It is impossible to grab and cling to the breath (we can hold it for some seconds). We have to let it pass. And what can be learned from that?

6. As the breath becomes increasingly more subtle, barely perceptible, do the inspiration and expiration remain distinct or do they merge? Again, what wisdom does this impart?

7. It may feel as if the breath has stopped moving. Is there another flow? Energy flows? Sparks? Streaks of light? Sensations? What does this point to?

8. Is the physical body still felt or has it disappeared? Let the insights unfold incrementally and we must make them our own through our own direct, felt experience.

9. Does the awareness remain steady? Awareness of the breath changes the breath. Does the breath change the awareness? When two entities know each other, do both change? This is the curious, objective, clinically inquiring mind.

10. All that exists constantly exchanges breath with everything else. We are all creations of the same vital life force, constantly sharing and exchanging it. The air that was held in my lungs will move into other lungs, entities, and vice versa. All held together, threaded by the breath.

11. There is simply nothing to grasp, nothing to cling to. Constant attempts to do so are futile and create stress. Whatever is accumulated will scatter and dissipate over time.

12. Realization of deep tranquility, contentment, clarity that comes from non-grasping, and sustained awareness of the breath—nothing to do, nothing to attain. The peace that comes in not engaging in unnecessary thoughts and the never-ending spin of the self-narrative. Relief from the unceasing mental chatter and noise.

13. Stop feeding the troublesome “I” that is not found in the body or the breath. Who and what is “I”?

Simply observe what is without trying to impose anything and letting insights arise spontaneously. Grasping for insights is futile and counterproductive.


What is the point for you? What is the intention of meditation?

Reflect on what this means at a personal level and how it is spontaneously changing behaviors, thoughts, feelings. Do others detect the change?

There are clear benefits from the physical and mental health perspectives: possibly reduce blood pressure, hypertension, anxiety, stress.

Develop focus and concentration, tranquility.

Self-knowledge, self-understanding.

Step-by-step releasing the narratives of “I”. Finding freedom in release. Peace. Contentment. Compassion for one’s self and others.


Understanding Prana Through Story
Breathing http://tracks
Yoga Nidra: Who Am I?
Intention and Motivation [talk]

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